Girl, 16, threatened with arrest as police said her Covid Instagram posts were causing ‘panic’

·2-min read

A teen who was threatened with jail time after posting about Covid on social media has won a lawsuit over her right to free speech.

Amyiah Cohoon returned home from hospital in March 2020, after being taken in for a fever and difficulty breathing, and posted on Instagram that she had Covid.

“Hey guys … sorry I’ve been on a long break. I wont be back for a while longer due to me [now] having the Covid-19 virus,” she wrote.

No cases had been recorded in her county of Wisconsin at the time, reports the Washington Post, and “concerned citizens” started calling local officials.

A sheriff’s sergeant came to her family’s house and told Ms Cohoon’s father “If [the post] doesn’t come down, the sheriff has directed me to issue disorderly conduct citations, if not start taking people to jail,” showed dash-cam video. “Because it is causing a disturbance to the public.”

Although the post was removed, MsCohoon’s family filed a federal lawsuit over the threat the following month, against the sheriff’s office.

On Friday, a federal judge ruled that the sheriff’s office had violated Ms Cohoon’s right to free speech, regardless of whether or not she had actually contracted Covid.

Ms Cohoon had come down with a fever and cough and began having difficulty breathing, according to court records. She was diagnosed with an “acute upper respiratory infection”, and while doctors said that her symptoms matched those of Covid she was ineligible to be tested for the virus.

US District Judge Brett Ludwig said in his ruling that accepting the sheriff’s argument for arresting the then-16-year-old – who police accused of sowing anxiety and “panic” via her posts – would “gut” the protections of the First Amendment. Mr Ludwig added that those protections apply “in times of tranquility and times of strife”.

Lawyer Luke Berg, who represented Ms Cohoon, told the Washington Post:“It’s a very strong statement … that cops can’t police social media.” 

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